Monday, November 27, 2017

Book Review: THE GLOBAL WARMING EXPRESS by Marina Weber

First Paragraph(s): On a warm, sunny spring afternoon at the Penguin Burial Ground on the shore of Queen Maud Land, Antarctica, a young emperor penguin named The Fluff wept for his mother. She had died after swallowing a piece of plastic floating in the ocean
After the funeral, his colony offered their sympathies and departed, leaving The Fluff alone, sitting on a rock and gazing out to sea. He remembered sitting on this same rock when he was much younger, on a cold, sunny spring day when they had buried his grandfather. Now the rock was underwater, and the sun felt hot on his back.

Make sure you find your way back here on Wednesday, Esteemed Reader, as Marina Weber will become the second youngest author in the history of this blog to face the 7 Questions, provided she's not too put off by some of the potentially offensive things I'm about to say (many of them quoted directly from her book).

Also, be warned, there will be some necessary politics involved in this review. Unavoidable. But it won't be all doom and gloom.  I promise to get cheerier before the end of the post.

Did you have yourself a good Thanksgiving, Esteemed Reader? Did you get yourself some delicious turkey, or at least some pumpkin pie? The ninja is now old enough to be considered one of the adults (when the heck did that happen!?!) and so was put in charge of cooking a ham. It was a big responsibility and I'm happy to report all 12 pounds of it were slow cooked over half a day to tender perfection and eaten by happy family members, which was enormously gratifying.

Did you sit around munching a bajillion calories and discussing politics?

Did your crazy uncle go off about how the red team is the best because although he himself is absolutely not a racist or a misogynist (how could you even think that!?!), he was happy to vote for one and wear that stupid MAGA hat that might as well be a white hood and now he's tired of winning?

Did your sloshed aunt counter with how the blue team is the best because a rigged primary process in a supposedly democratic system isn't actually that big a deal and outraged Bernie Bros should just shut up about it already (to heck with the will of the people!)?

Did anyone fret about that infamous joint study by professors from Princeton and Northwestern University, which demonstrated that from 1981 to 2002, congressional votes cast over those 20 years aligned with the popular opinion of average Americans less than eighteen percent of the time, ultimately concluding that "the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy?"

Me, I'm happy to report no politics were discussed over my succulent ham. In fact, I've been trying to read the news no more than once a day as recent politics make me so angry I shake with rage before I fall into despair that this is what's happened to the country I love.

Thankfully, Esteemed Reader, this blog is focused on the reading and writing of middle grade fiction. If there's anyplace where we can get a respite from politics, it's here. And today we're discussing a lovely story written and illustrated by two girls at the age of nine about some animals riding a magic train. Surely there could be nothing political about so innocuous a story. 

Except, the last thing The Global Warming Express intends to be is innocuous.

Alas, there is no way to discuss The Global Warming Express without discussing politics at least a little. After all, the book has a forward by Senator Tom Udall (I'd be curious to know how many non political middle grade books he's written a forward for). And there's a blurb on the back from Nancy Pelosi. And one of the most prominent locations in the story is the White House.

Make no mistake, Esteemed Reader, The Global Warming Express is a political book and it absolutely has an agenda. Not that that's a bad thing. Despite the adorable characters of a penguin and a harp seal, this is a story about a very urgent matter:

"I remember you!" Creamy cried loudly. "You had feathers sticking out all over you!"
"Yeah, that's why my dad named me The Fluff." then he said, "Can you help me? I need help. My land needs help. You need help!"

These characters make no bones about the fact that they are absolutely on a political mission, as are the book's author and illustrator (literally):

"We are going to Washington, D.C., to tell the president he needs to do something about global warming. At least, I think that's where we're heading. This train seems to have a mind of its own!"

The Global Warming Express is a fun and charming book that I absolutely recommend, even to readers who believe global warming is a hoax. Actually, I especially recommend it to those sorts of readers as they most need to hear Marina Weber's and Joanna Whysner's urgent message.

In an ideal world, global warming wouldn't be a political issue. The science is in and it is conclusive. This is an issue that must be addressed whether you prefer to be lied to on other issues by the politicians on the red side of the aisle or the blue one.

Unfortunately, the kind of broad sweeping changes necessary to combat global warming require actions be taken by our officials. Individual citizens can only do so much, but we must demand a better response to global warming from those in charge. The Global Warming Express is about citizens (and animals) doing just that. 

In that way, The Global Warming Express is in part a political pamphlet. That's not to say it's an entirely political book, which is why I'm going to make one more observation and then we're going to leave politics behind to focus on other aspects of the novel.

The president our heroes are voyaging to see is never directly named, nor is that president's face shown in the one illustration of him. But his hand is shown and it's clearly an African American's hand, which narrows down the options of which of our presidents is represented to exactly one (at the time of this review, anyway). In my own middle grade book, Banneker Bones receives a phone call from a president, who is also not named, but who I always thought of as an Obama type.

If I wrote Banneker Bones and the Giant Robot Bees today, I don't know that I'd feature a president character as the office has so recently been sullied and my perception of that office has forever changed. The Global Warming Express was published in March of last year and written well before that. There is a captivating innocence to this tale of two girls and a bunch of animals earnestly believing that if they can just get their message to be heard by the leader of the country, cooler heads and obvious truths will prevail and action will be taken to stop global warming.

And so, the inevitable question I found myself asking as I read this book that was not intended by its creators, but which is forced to forefront all the same: would two nine-year-old girls writing a similar book today have such faith that reaching the current madman occupying the White House would result in a positive change? I don't know, can't know, but it's a depressing and troubling thought.

All right then, let's pivot away from the roaring Trumpster fire that is our present government and talk more about this book. It's not all doom and gloom. I did tell you there's a magic train, right:

Peering through the grimy window panes of the shed, they saw the train shake and shiver. They watched decades of dust and rust fall off its body until the old steam engine seemed to sparkle. Then the shed itself began to shake and rattle. The Fluff and Creamy were shaking and rattling too as they watched the train double in size before their eyes! Beautiful rainbow bubbles and fluttering butterflies filled the shed, and with a crash! the big doors flew open and the train moved into the clear moonlit night, stopping in front of the two friends.

Even more fun, the author and the illustrator are characters in this book, sort of like Kurt Vonnegut and Kilgore Trout meeting up in Breakfast of Champions (thanks Vonneguys!) to personally discuss some of the novels' themes, but way more fun and middle grade appropriate:

"Oh," Marina said, "it's smoke from a forest fire. We've always had fires in the summer; but in recent years, there have been more. Joanna, it smells like your dad is cooking breakfast!"

Joanna smiled. "It's because global warming is causing terrible droughts in this area," she said, serious again. "New Mexico has been in a drought for years."

The girls are extremely concerned about what's happening to their own environment and the environment of all the animals. And where are the icecaps going?

Much of the meat of The Global Warming Express is a dialogue between the girls and the many other passengers about the environmental impacts of mankind's actions. The book is very well researched and keeps its story moving while deftly weaving in the information readers need to know to appreciate our precarious situation:

"That's true," Marina replied. "The Earth has already warmed by about 0.8 degrees in the past century, and that causes a lot of damage."
"It doesn't sound like very much," interrupted Sally. "Isn't 0.8 even less that 1?"
"Well, that's in Celsius measurement; it's 1.5 degrees in Fahrenheit, the temperatures we're used to," Marina said.
"But 1.5. Isn't that less than 2, but for the Earth, even one degree is a big deal! It's like if my body's temperature went up two degrees...."
"Your mom would take you to the doctor!" Joanna said.
"That's called a fever," Marina added, "and right now, the Earth has a fever. If it keeps getting sicker like this, most of the animals and plants that live on it are going to die."

Learning about global warming is certainly not the only reason to read this book. You regular Esteemed Readers who want to write fiction for a middle grade audience should absolutely pick up a copy of The Global Warming Express to see what sort of story your target reader wants to tell when they're the ones doing the telling.

Something I at first found off putting about this book, and then found endearing, is the fact that most of the characters are Batman, by which I mean no one has any parents left alive. You'll remember that very first paragraph before I brought up all that political stuff finds our hero, The Fluff, weeping for his mother who died choking on a piece of plastic. Well, he's far from the only one who's lost his parents:

Creamy was a harp seal. Like all harp seals, Creamy had been left on the ice where she was born off eastern Greenland when she was only twelve days old. She wasn't ready to swim yet when, because of global warming, the ice she was on melted too early. She would have drowned if two kind-hearted wildlife biologists hadn't found her in the water and rescued her. They sent her to the zoo in San Diego, California, and now she would never see her parents again.

"Well, I'm not sure. I'm Flora. Um, can I join you?" she asked. "I don't have any family left." She hung her head. "And I'm really hungry!"
"Oh my!" The Fluff said. "Of course you can! None of us has any family left."

The purpose, I suspect, is to demonstrate the catastrophic effects of global warming in a way that's deeply personal to our heroes. And in this, it is effective. The reason I find it endearing is that I'm sort of touched by the thought that the worst possible things two nine-year-old girls could think of happening was the loss of family. And I can't say as how they're wrong. I'm a lot older and that's certainly one of the worst things I can think of happening as well.

And despite my distaste for any political news that isn't politicians in handcuffs (go Mueller, go!), I'm going to have to pay attention to politics. You too, Esteemed Reader. There's too much at stake not to.

And the great thing about The Global Warming Express is that's it not just a book. It's a movement among young people:

The Global Warming Express
isn't nearly as cynical as the ninja. This is a tool to motivate young people (and adults) to get political. We don't have a choice. As distasteful as our present politics may be, we all have to live here and we need a here to live.

Despair is exactly how the worst of our current elites is would prefer we react to a system so clearly corrupt and broken, because despair promotes inaction. But remember, this is a country where slavery was once legal and gay marriage was not. Political change can and must come. So have a good cry if you must, but then get active. For as The Fluff says,  "I need help. My land needs help. You need help!"

And that's where we'll leave it for now. As always, I'll leave you with some of my favorite passages from The Global Warming Express:

As he neared the shore, he knew he was a long way from home but a lot closer to his dear Creamy. Hungry, worried, and suddenly feeling very warm, The Fluff tied up his boat and went looking for air conditioning and a cold shower.

Inside the house, Marina woke her friend Joanna. "I think there's something outside," she whispered.
"Uuuhhh... lee me lone," yawned Joanna.

"Now, energy companies are looking for other, more difficult ways to get at fossil fuels, like drilling deep in the ocean and in remote natural preserves."
"I know what preserves are. Yum!" Joanna said.
With a deep sigh, Inoah corrected her: "Not that kind! We're talking about land that is preserved, kept safe, and treasured. Get it?"

"And some people still don't agree that all this human activity is causing this fast warming!" Joanna said.
"Well, it certainly isn't animal activity," squeaked Sally.

STANDARD DISCLAIMER: All reviews here will be written to highlight a book’s positive qualities. It is my policy that if I don’t have something nice to say online, I won’t say anything at all (usually). I’ll leave you to discover the negative qualities of each week’s book on your own. 

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